Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, which means backyard-barbecue and fresh-produce season.
But while just-picked melons and ripe berries are among the many lush treats of summer, they can also be a source of food-borne illness if they aren’t handled properly. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported five outbreaks of food-borne illnesses involving fruits and vegetables, such as cantaloupe and bean sprouts. Contaminated produce can spread infection with bacteria like salmonella, listeria and E.coli, which can cause serious illness involving diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and potentially death.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a simple checklist of tips for lowering your risk of eating contaminated produce and becoming ill:
Wash all fruits and vegetables under the tap before eating. This goes for fruits with hard rinds as well, such as cantaloupe or watermelon. If the rind is contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens that can make you sick, the bugs can be transferred to the flesh of the fruit when you cut into it.
- Wash even bagged vegetables that are labeled as pre-washed. Improper storage temperatures while the vegetables were transported could promote bacterial growth
- Dry washed fruits and vegetables before eating in order to wipe away any remaining bacteria
- Don’t eat soft or bruised parts of fruit. These sections are already rotting and contain bacteria
- Use separate cutting boards to slice fruits or vegetables and raw meats to avoid contamination
- Avoid eating raw sprouts. Cooking them will lower the risk of ingesting bacteria
By following these tips, you can safely enjoy the bounty — and the health benefits — that the summer growing season has to offer.